Buhach wins it for injured teammate

LOS BANOS -- Rodd Parker passed out the swim caps one by one Tuesday afternoon.

It's been the same routine for the Buhach Colony boys water polo coach before every game. He calls out the numbers and locates the player in the water.

Only this time, it was different. When Parker got to No. 8, he didn't say anything.

That cap belongs to Eric Baker.

Parker held the swim cap in his other hand as he made his way through the rest of the squad.

"You're looking at the numbers and you see whose number it is," Parker said. "Of course, it makes you think of him. I knew we were going to keep his cap on the bench, so I held onto it and handed out the rest."

The Buhach Colony players paid tribute to their injured teammate in the best way they could, scoring a 10-6 victory over Los Banos.

Brandon Torres, Peter Brigham, Kevin Rozas and Justin Tanzillo scored two goals each.

The win extended BC's perfect record to 9-0 in the Central California Conference and moved the Thunder one step closer to the school's first conference title.

However, it was hard to celebrate, knowing Baker was lying in a San Francisco hospital awaiting surgery.

Baker was injured Saturday during a tournament, when he dived into the shallow end of the Johansen High pool. He suffered a cranial fracture and compressed vertebrae.

Baker was transferred Monday from Memorial Medical Center in Modesto to the UC San Francisco Medical Center, where he's waiting to have surgery to fuse two vertebrae.

"It was a very emotional day," Parker said. "Eric's still part of this team, and he will continue to be a part of this team. That's why his cap was on our bench."

Before the game started, both teams gathered on the deck at mid-pool for a moment of prayer.

There wasn't a dry eye in the small Buhach Colony crowd, made up mostly of parents and grandparents who knew it just as easily could have been their child or grandchild in a hospital.

The BC players wrote Baker's number 8 on their chests. Fittingly, right over their hearts.

William Coate and Justin Lewison wrote Baker down their right arms.

"He's a big motivation for us," teammate Devin Stone said. "Everything we do now, we're trying to do for Eric. He's a great kid to be around. He makes you smile all the time.

"There were times during the game I was thinking of him. Peter Bringham brought the ball down to 2 meters. Eric does that a lot. That made me think of him."

After the game, all the Buhach Colony players could do was think of Baker.

"I hope he gets word that we won," teammate Brandon Torres said. "This win was for him."

Parker said he'd make sure of it.

Soccer HILMAR 5, LIVINGSTON 4, at Hilmar -- Jason Nunes scored his second goal of the match, a kick from 14 yards out, with about eight minutes left to give the Yellowjackets (6-2-1 WAC) a victory over the Wolves (7-2-2 WAC).

Alonzo Lara, Livingston's standout goalie, had six saves and scored a goal.

Bee staff contributed to this report.